Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens: Comments & Suggestions
July 30, 2007
Photo credit: Mike Jenssen
Three Beginning Notes...
First, the ritual itself, as well as the North American Forum on the Catechumentate (which has contributed much to the implementation of the RCIA, that is, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, in the United States and elsewhere), presumes a year-round catechumenate. In other words, rather than the school-year model many parishes employed when first implementing the RCIA, the Period of Inquiry and a Catechumenate are year-round. In this way, an unbaptized person who comes forward in February is not told, "It's too late for this year. Come back in the fall." Rather, with a year-round process, he/she joins a group of inquirers right away and comes into the Catechumenate when he/she is ready and the Rite of Acceptance is scheduled. Therefore, some people in the Catechumenate are baptized at the Easter Vigil and some are not. Some continue to meet until the following Easter.
Second, this article presumes the year-round Catechumenate in terms of scheduling the Rite of Acceptance. When should the rite be celebrated? The simple answer is, "whenever it is needed," though most churches need a little more structure and schedule it two or three times a year. I would caution against include the rite on a Sunday that is already packed with added layers. For example, the First Sunday of Advent has enough to say about the start of a new liturgical season without the addition of an initiation rite.
Third, when planning the Rite of Acceptance, we need to make certain to remember that this ritual is for people who are not baptized. There is a separate Rite of Welcoming that may be used for people who were baptized in another Christian communion and are seeking to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. (See my article, "Rite of Welcoming for Baptized Candidates: Comments & Suggestions," on this site.) A combined rite can be found in Part II of the RCIA, beginning at paragraph 505. (My references here to the RCIA ritual book are to the United States edition.) When using the combined rite, it is imperative to make a distinction between the baptized and the unbaptized. Sometimes in our "all are created equal" society, we bristle at the idea of treating people differently. The parish leaders must make certain that the baptized candidates realize they are already members of the Body of Christ through their baptism. We do violence to their baptism when we pretend it hasn't happened.
The Rite of Acceptance is found at paragraph 41 in the ritual book of the RCIA. Preceding the specific rubrics and texts of the rite is an introduction. One should always read the introduction to a rite before beginning to plan for the celebration of the rite. In the introduction to the Rite of Acceptance, we learn:
+ the purpose of the rite
+ prerequisites for the candidates for baptism
+ some specific information about the celebration and its participants
+ catechesis about the fruits of the rite
The purpose of the rite is twofold: the candidates for baptism declare publicly their intention to be initiated into the Church and the Church, as represented by those in the assembly, accepts the candidates, agreeing to support them and hold them in prayer.
Location of the Rite
The rite (para. 48) suggests three possible locations for the beginning of the rite: (1) outside of the church building; (2) inside the entrance of the church; (3) some other suitable site.
A decision that takes into account the likely weather outside, the amount of space needed for the number of people involved, visibility and audibility concerns, and any other particular logistics for the parish must be made. The idea is that the priest or deacon presider goes to meet the candidates for baptism at the entrance of the church, speaks a brief message of joy and welcome, and invites them into the church.
Congregations that are used to going to another place (outside the church building) for Palm Sunday and/or the Easter fire might be willing to gather around the candidates for baptism outdoors in a courtyard and accompany them into the church. If this is the case, make certain that the sound system works outdoors.
After this greeting, the candidates for baptism are named and questioned. The rite (para. 50) tells us to use "one of the following (texts) or something similar," giving some leeway. The rite includes the questions, "What is your name?" and "What do you ask of God's Church?"
+ It might be possible to ask the sponsors to introduce the candidates.
+ It also might be possible to ask the candidates' expectations of the Church and allow for spontaneous answers. In order to do so, one would want to prepare the candidates, not by telling them exactly what they will do and have them recite a memorized answer. Rather, at a prior catechetical session, ask them the question of why they want to be baptized. They could discuss this with sponsors or in the large group, which would help them be able to do so at the time of the rite.
First Acceptance of the Gospel
Next, the candidates for baptism are asked to accept the Gospel. Three forms are given in the rite (para. 52), but again, it is possible to adapt these texts to make them better fit the candidates' responses. The easiest way to consider adaptations is to take notes on the candidates' responses at the preparation session and try to incorporate the ideas.
For example, to the question, "What do you ask of God's Church?" a candidate might give the spontaneous response, "I want to know more about the teachings of Christ and how to follow them, especially in situations with my family." A reference to family relationships might then be added to the text., e.g.: Text A: "Walk in the light of Christ and learn to trust in his wisdom. Commit your lives daily to his care, at home with family, in the workplace, both with friends and strangers, so that you may come to believe in him with all your heart."
Sponsors and all present then agree to help these candidates for baptism in their faith journey.
Signing of the Candidates with the Cross
Often, a moving part of the Rite of Acceptance is the Signing of the Forehead and other Senses. Consider the choreography for this rite. Many parishes station the catechumens down the middle aisle or across the front in such a way that the congregation can closely see the people's faces as they are being signed with the Sign of the Cross. Catechists or sponsors may do the signing of the other senses.
A suggested song for this moment might be "Christ Be in Your Senses," text by Mary Louise Bringle (Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 2002), which is included in the latest edition of GIA's Gather Comprehensive.
Concluding Prayer and Invitation to the Word of God
There are two choices for the prayer that concludes this rite (para. 57). The candidates for baptism are now called catechumens. Next, there is a specific invitation to them to listen to God's word (para. 60-61), underscoring the importance of the teachings of Scripture. The Lectionary will become a primary "textbook" during the Period of the Catechumenate.
Liturgy of the Word
Mass continues with the Liturgy of the Word. There is an option for giving the catechumens a Bible or a cross after the homily. Intercessions are prayed specifically for the catechumens using either the texts in the ritual book (para. 65) or composing original texts. Finally, the catechumens are "dismissed." They are sent in peace to a suitable room for discussion and reflection on their experience of the rites and the readings that were proclaimed.
Jerry Galipeau has written dismissal texts in "We Send You Forth: Dismissals for the RCIA" (Chicago: World Library Publications).
Many communities accompany the dismissal procession with a song or short refrain. For example, Psalm 19 with its refrain, "Lord, you have the words of everlasting life," has many musical settings. Marty Haugen has written a specific piece for the Dismissal Rite called "Go in Peace," from GIA Publications, Inc. Also from GIA are the David Haas collections, "Who Calls You by Name," Volumes I and II, which have specific dismissal pieces.
Vicki Klima was the Director of the Worship Center for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis for nearly 20 years. She currently works at a parish in Eden Prairie, MN.
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